Memories make us who we are. Our experiences in the world produce memories by physically changing the brain. Many experiences, like walking down the street to the store on a normal day, we do not remember. However, some memories, such as being attacked by a dog while walking down the street, are burned into our brains and stay with us for our entire lives. What tells the brain to store some experiences as memories while others are forgotten? How does this learning result in adaptive changes in behavior? Answering these questions is a central goal of our laboratory.

Aversive experiences, such as being attacked by a dog, are powerful triggers for memory storage. To accomplish this task, aversive encounters activate neural eteaching signalf circuits which can trigger brain alterations resulting in memory formation.

In the lab we study how teaching signals regulate memory formation and guide adaptive behavior. To study this question we use a variety of aversively motivated behavioral assays including fear conditioning, a powerful model for studying emotional memories. Relative to our knowledge of sensory and motor circuits, we understand very little about the brain mechanisms which translate aversive experiences into neural teaching signals. As a result, there is important work to be done in this research area. Furthermore, the study of aversive teaching signal systems represents an important bridge between multiple areas of neuroscience research. By studying these circuits our ultimate goal is to discover general principles of neural circuit function, neural coding and plasticity as they relate to adaptive behavior. These insights may ultimately guide us toward a better mechanistic understanding of learning and memory, decision making, pain, emotion and many other aspects of human experience.

Dysfunction in aversive teaching signal circuits may underlie some of the clinical pathology associated with chronic pain and anxiety disorders. Understanding the mechanisms of aversive teaching signal circuits could also facilitate the development of novel treatments for these debilitating conditions.